Health warnings as dust-storm threat nears Canberra

An Emergency Services crew keeps an eye on a dust storm in March across the Woden Valley from atop Red Hill.

A POTENTIAL dust storm and unsettled weather conditions forecast over the next two days could exacerbate pre-existing respiratory conditions in people with asthma. 

Vanessa Johnston, ACT public health physician, said dust storms can significantly reduce air quality and people who have respiratory conditions should take precautions.

 “Anyone can experience health effects from dust storms, but particularly those who have pre-existing conditions like asthma,” Dr Johnston said.

 “With the advice we have received from the Bureau of Meteorology of expected high winds that have the potential to generate a dust storm, we want people to be aware of the simple ways they can look after their health.

“The most common symptoms experienced during a dust storm are irritation to the eyes and upper airways, and the longer you are exposed, the greater the chance that it will have an effect.

“That’s why, people who are vulnerable should be vigilant for [any exacerbation] in their condition and avoid exposure to higher levels of dust where possible.

“This is also a good reminder for Canberrans who suffer from asthma to make sure their treatment and action plans are up-to-date.”

People can take the following precautions to help minimise health effects of dust storms:

  • Stay indoors, with windows and doors closed;
  • Stay in air-conditioned premises if possible and switch the air-conditioner to “recycle” or “recirculate” to reduce the amount of dust entering the building;
  • Avoid vigorous exercise, especially if you have a heart or lung condition;
  • If it is safe to do so, check on elderly neighbours or other people who you think might need extra help.

Anyone with concerns about their health should seek medical advice from their health practitioner, and anyone experiencing wheezing, chest tightness or difficulty breathing should seek urgent medical assistance.

More on managing your health during dust storms here.

Further information on weather conditions here.

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